Most teacher evaluations—I’ll conservatively say 98%—are “satisfactory” or better. (Here are some numbers from 2013).
That doesn’t mean that nearly all teachers are doing a great job; it just means that we as administrators very rarely go to the trouble of marking a teacher as unsatisfactory.
Why? Because it’s a lot of work, and it often doesn’t “work.”
What’s A Successful Bad Evaluation?
If you have a teacher who isn’t getting the job done, and hasn’t improved despite being urged and helped to do so, an unsatisfactory evaluation may be in order.
But what is this supposed to accomplish?
(And no, this is not a rhetorical question—we do need to give unsatisfactory evaluations when they’re called for).
We should be looking for one of two outcomes when we give a negative evaluation:
- Improvement. It’s a wake-up call, yes, but a negative evaluation should also result in a great deal more attention and support to help the teacher improve.
- Termination. If a teacher has repeatedly demonstrated that they aren’t going to improve to an acceptable level any time soon, an unsatisfactory evaluation should lead to that teacher’s termination.
- Help the teacher improve to an acceptable level.
- Do whatever it takes to have the teacher terminated.
But too many principals rely on a deeply flawed assumption.
Evaluation Is Not Harassment, and Harassment Is Not Evaluation
A lot of administrators try to combine a little bit of evaluation with a little bit of meanness, thinking:
“If I give them a hard enough time, they’ll leave.”
No, no, and no.
Time and time again, I’ve seen that backfire on administrators.
Your options are:
You cannot cause a voluntary resignation. You just can’t, and if you try, you’ll end up with a mess.
Do a half-hearted job of documenting and supporting, and throw in a hefty load of meanness for good measure, and you’re going to have your whole staff mad at you, instead of thanking you for holding their underperforming colleague accountable.
You can only do negative evaluations right if you have your ducks in a row, and far too many negative evaluations “fail” because we, the evaluators, don’t have our stuff together.
The solution, as any Boy Scout could tell you, is to be prepared.
What Unprepared Looks Like
Not Knowing What’s Happening
Final evaluations are usually due in May or June in the US, and we usually start thinking about them when certain deadlines—for goal-setting, for observations, for written reports, for renewal decisions—are approaching.
Too often, though, we’re unprepared for these deadlines because we don’t know enough about what’s actually taking place in classrooms.
We rely on proxies like collegial behavior, orderly students, or a lack of complaints for parents, and we have no idea what’s actually taking place during lessons.
(If you want to make sure this isn’t the case in your school, join us for the free 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge).
When we reach the end of the year and realize things aren’t going well in a particular teacher’s classroom, we’re left with a terrible choice: pretend everything is fine (since we don’t have enough evidence to submit a solid negative evaluation), or give an anemic unsat that will neither help the teacher grow nor result in their dismissal.
It goes without saying that an unsat requires loads of evidence, and that evidence needs to be in writing (or in some cases, documents, photos, or other artifacts).
We keep far too much in our heads.
If you want to help a teacher improve, you need evidence of their current practice so you can identify specific steps for them to take. And you need evidence of their improvement.
If you want to make sure a teacher doesn’t come back next year, you need evidence of what’s going on, what you’ve done to improve the situation, and how the teacher has responded.
This evidence needs to be outside of your own head, and it needs to be organized so you can pull it together easily.
(Keep stuff in Evernote if in doubt.)
Failing to Decide What Outcome We Want
The third way we can be unprepared is to be unclear about what we want to happen.
If you don’t know whether you want the teacher to improve or be fired, your actions to make that happen are going to be scattershot.
Of course, we should want all teachers to improve. But sometimes we also want people to leave, because we can tell it’s not going to work out, at least not without many more years of sacrificing students’ learning in the faint hope that the teacher will improve.
(If you want someone to leave because they aren’t a good fit, that’s another issue. Bad evaluations are for bad teaching, period.)
You never have to be mean, but at a certain point, you do have to decide which way it’s going to go, and proceed accordingly.
If you’re going to fire someone, you can’t pull any punches. And if you’re going to help them improve and stay on your staff, you have a relationship to maintain—one that involves very clear expectations for continued improvement.
But let me be very clear on this point: You should never simply hope that someone will leave voluntarily because you gave them a bad evaluation.
That may well happen—in fact, it probably happens a hundred times more often than an actual termination—but if a voluntary resignation is your goal, you’ll get sloppy about collecting evidence and supporting the teacher’s improvement, and you can’t afford to do that.
It’s just as likely that it’ll backfire, and you’ll end up with an angry staff, a very angry bad teacher, and nothing to show for it.
Know what’s going on in your classrooms. Gather evidence, even if you’re not sure if you’ll need it. Be nice, but be diligent in preparing for all of your evaluations.
And especially be prepared for those that might not be positive.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of my workshop on the topic:
I’m currently offering a new workshop (part of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network, but registration is open to the public) called Preparing for Negative Teacher Evaluations.
I’ll share my best strategies for making the sure this painful, but necessary, process accomplishes its goals.
- How to distinguish between the “coaching hat” and the evaluator role
- How to prioritize among struggling staff and avoid taking on too much at once
- How to gain the support of key players such as union representatives and your supervisor
- How to keep the paperwork straight and get it done on time
- How to hold teachers accountable for their performance without creating unreasonable demands or causing discouragement
- How to create and follow through on clear expectations for improved performance
And more. Learn more or register here »